Sometimes, the most important fashion show isn’t on the runway. Take Dapper Dan, whose eponymous Harlem boutique provided gangsters, hip-hop moguls, athletes (Mike Tyson
was an infamous customer), and New York’s wanna-be hustlers with a
sense of identity irreverently constructed from leather garments
screen-printed with luxury logos and tricked out with fur. Throughout
the 80s and 90s, Dap’s store was a fashion capital unto itself, open 24
hours a day, seven days a week, until the luxury companies caught up
with him and a raid (led by future Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor) ended the store’s reign.
Last year, Dap, along with author Emily Spivack, chef Marcus Samuelsson, and Orange Is the New Black author Piper Kerman, celebrated the Spivack’s released book Worn Stories, a collection of first-person essays about the memories behind our clothing, at Ginny’s Supper Club
in Samuelsson’s Red Rooster Harlem. Vanity Fair spoke to Dap about the 2015
fashion week, dressing for the occasion, and the first thing he notices
about a person’s outfit.
VF Daily: Do you follow New York Fashion Week? Dapper Dan: When you’ve been excluded from the
class, and they’re going on a trip, you usually don’t follow along on
the trip. So I never really kept up with what transpires there. In fact, my whole thing in fashion was that the runways and
shows are never allowed to inspire me. . . . [I would] go to all the
major trade shows that had all the latest [screen-printing and leather
treatment] technology and see how I would take it and do it as opposed
to runway shows. I was open 24 hours a day for nine years straight. So
my constant exposure to living this day in and day out allowed me to
isolate everything else and just think about what I can do, how I can
change this? I was catering to gangsters, and gangsters have these huge, huge
egos. So one gangster crew would come in and order X amount. There’s 12
of them. So the other crew would come in and say, “What did they get?
How much did they spend?” So now I have to be more creative, you know. So that’s why eventually I say, “You know what? I did his motorcycle,
you want me to do your car?” “Well, he got a Louis Vuitton jacket, but
I’m gonna make you a Louis Vuitton jacket that reverses, so you can wear
the Louis side one time and then reverse it while you’re in the party
and really floss and wear the mink side. So I needed desperately to know
new frontiers, all the time, all the time.
Are there neighborhoods you enjoy going to in New York to study the style? I like to go to clubs where a particular type of people go. I like to
go to a club that’s designated the gay club, see what they’re wearing. I
go to a hip-hop club, see what they wearing. Because I know in those
locations, people are who they really wanna be, and how they really
wanna look. I go to a neighborhood; they might be dressed for work. But
when they go to that club, that’s who they are.
What article of clothing on a person do you look at first? With a female: shoes. With a male, a black male, uptown: jacket. With
a white male or an uppity black male: tie and shirt. The tie and shirt
tell me if they want to be in tune with the times. Uptown, the guys are really into jackets. Sneakers count a lot, but
the jacket —if they’re really into fashion, that jacket’s gonna match the
sneakers. [A customer] comes to your table and says, “Oh, man, that’s hot! Let me go see if I can get some sneakers to match.” If you can’t get no sneakers to match, it’s a dead sale. The market follows the color scheme of Jordans. Look: all you got to
do is know what color Jordan is coming out with, which sneaker is gonna
be hot, and you make a jacket to go with that. The sneaker sells the
jacket. I know women are fetishistic about shoes. Looking at a woman’s shoes is like being a palm reader.
What are you wearing tonight? I dress for the occasion. I don’t really get to do Dapper Dan because
I play the crowd. I have a basic, generic suit because I knew I was
gonna run into a basic, generic crowd.
What does it mean to “do” Dapper Dan? To do Dapper Dan means to be, “Goddamn, how he did that?” If you don’t say that, I was not there.
Do you think fashion is a means to permeate a subculture? In other words, can you dress yourself into a certain culture? I think fashion can escape a subculture. It’s that thriving,
that beat within you to say, “I feel trapped. I gotta do this, I gotta
be outside of this.” That’s what fashion is to me. It’s a manipulative
thing, too, because to me, there is no right or wrong in fashion. It’s
just weak and strong. If an artist is great, that’s strength, and you
can use his power.
What draws you to a particular logo over another? I’m heavily into symbolism. When I first started doing Louis Vuitton,
the first thing I did was look up the symbol. I saw that the symbols
were a manifestation of symbols that came out of the east, which was a
variation on the cross. And I like to play with things. That’s why my
most inspiring designer is Versace. He did it: with the Greek key and
the Medusa head, which he didn’t own but he just made that so powerful,
so symbolic. I like that! Originally I play around with Louis ’cause
there was a lot of things involved . . . but none of that touches Versace. So much there. He did it all: the colors, the time period
things he used.
What’s the hardest thing about being a man? Understanding the nature of pain. You gotta know what pain is. If
you’re a man, you gotta know what pain is. The process of taking care of
your family is to keep them free of pain, whatever that means to them.
The height of masculinity is to be able to take pain, even if it’s
Five of the historic railway bridges spanning Yorckstrasse in Kreuzberg are being taken down! These where one of the first railway bridges of Berlin, connecting the city with Leipzig. The pillars of these bridges were still full of holes from the shootings and bombing of WWII... A historic moment, I will miss the view of these a lot.